A new culture is emerging in the West and the Christian story has lost its central place in a society it did much to shape. This new culture can accurately be described as post-Christian.
The old Christendom algorithm of the Church in the West is failing and statistics appear to back up his claim. The onset of a global pandemic in 2020 has only served to accelerate this decline in church attendance and there is an underlying assumption that the profound social changes of secularization and postmodernism are moving the church in the West toward its ultimate demise.
I disagree, but only if the church learns to mobilize its workers.
In light of this emerging culture, we need to think differently. In George Hunter’s book Should We Change Our Game Plan, he illustrates two types of churches. "Demand Side" churches are those that rise and fall depending on the demand for religious goods and services. These churches rely on conditions in their community and society to be favorable toward Christianity. These type of churches will slowly die out as culture continues to change. In contrast, he describes "Supply Side" churches as those that take the initiative to go to where the people are, no matter the cost. They are proactive rather than reactive and he describes the difference between the two churches as playing “not to lose” versus “playing to win”. Hunter argues that in light of these massive societal shifts,
“the church is called to be an apostolate more than an ecclesia, its main business to serve as God’s mission, a mission primarily entrusted to the laity, whose sphere of influence is the world.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The past eighteen months have been highly disruptive with Covid-19, political polarization, racial tension, increased apathy, and attacks on religious liberty. These conditions have led some churches to double down on their "demand side" impulses and yet, the frontier of 2022 will require a new game plan. The harvest is plentiful but harvesting methods must change.
The Church in North America is no longer a chaplain to Christendom, but a missionary to a post-Christian culture. The methodology must begin to focus the lion's share of its efforts on empowering laypeople to reach the growing harvest. However, church leadership committed to sending will require people committed to going. When addressing the growing harvest in Luke 10, Jesus turned to the 72 and commissioned them to "Go"!
They were the original pioneers.
Who are Pioneers?
Pioneers are disciple makers that go. They are men and women willing to leave the confines of the gathered church to scatter and explore the new frontier. More specifically, they are a critical group of people that stand in the gap between disciple makers and church planters.
Pioneers are “missionary disciples called to find creative ways to engage and reach a group of people uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the established church”.
They are the linchpin for unlocking a new paradigm of ministry focused less on professional clergy and more on the priesthood of all believers. But how do you know if you are a pioneer? How do you know if God is calling you to more? These five questions might be a good place to start.
1. Do you have a growing relationship with Jesus?
Spiritual health is vital to pioneering and spiritual warfare ought to be expected. Jesus sent the 72 out “like lambs among wolves” and an intimate walk with God is required. The work of pioneering flows out of our love for Jesus and the gospel. This means when you are “not welcomed” you will be able to “shake the dust off your feet” and move forward with Jesus. Your identity is found in him, first and foremost. Pioneers are disciples of Jesus.
2. Does your heart break for lost people?
Pioneers are missionary disciples. Pioneering begins with a heart for the lost. In a recent R&D project with The Wesleyan Church, a group of seventy-two pioneers were given an APEST assessments and the highest score was in evangelism. There is a missionary impulse among pioneers to reach lost people, and they often leverage their social networks and local neighborhoods to put this impulse in action.
3. Do you feel drawn toward a specific group of people?
Pioneers often feel a calling to a specific geographic or demographic group of people. Disciple making can happen with a few, but pioneering requires a group. Who are the people in your sphere of influence that need Jesus? Are they family members, co-workers, neighbors, teachers, waiters, business leaders, construction workers, athletes, community members? Who else do you feel drawn to reach? What group of people has God laid on your heart?
4. Do you have a bias toward action?
Pioneers are “dreamers that do”. This is perhaps my favorite and most succinct definition of a pioneer. Jesus told the 72 original pioneers of Luke 10 to refrain from taking “a purse or bag or sandals” but instead commanded them to “Go!” Pioneers have a bias toward action and adjust their plan along the way. Pioneers don’t get overly concerned about the organization as much as the mission. Reaching the lost and gathering disciples is first and foremost.
5. Are you willing to count the cost?
Suffering comes in many forms. Most pioneers are co-vocational and while some can integrate their vocation with pioneering, for others many of their non-working hours will be spent on their new initiative. This will require sacrifice. For some, that may mean their social lives will suffer, leisure time will be cut short, modern comforts will need to be sacrificed, and financial sacrifices made. There may also be significant rejection or persecution and yet, pioneers count the cost and move forward anyway.
If you answered “yes” to these five questions, I would invite you to learn more about pioneering. Click here for a free e-book I've created with Ed Love, Director of Church Multiplication for The Wesleyan Church. What might a new pioneering project look like? That’s the topic of a future blog post, but often these projects become 1) missional communities, 2) non-profits, 3) neighborhood churches or 4) micro churches. Our prayers are with you!
Want to learn more?